United States Supreme Court Rules State Courts May Not Divest Veterans of Their Military Benefits in Property Distributions Consequent to Divorce

Today, the United States Supreme Court released its opinion in Howell v. Howell, holding in line with the pro bono amicus curiae brief submitted by Law Offices of Carson J. Tucker on behalf of Veterans of Foreign Wars and Operation Firing for Effect that state courts were preempted by federal law from divesting military veterans of their non-disposable retirement and disability pay to make up for losses to former spouses due to the military veteran’s waiver of his or her disposable retirement pay.

We will provide a more in-depth analysis of the opinion in future posts, but suffice it to say that the Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion clearly rebukes those many, many states that have issued decisions in direct contravention of this rule of federal preemption. Our amicus curiae brief detailed the history of federal military benefits and explained the fundamental underlying reasons Congress’ authority in this area trumps all state court orders to the contrary. Indeed, the Court expressly says that State courts have no authority to vest these benefits in the former spouse whether or not they are received by the veteran before, during or long after divorce proceedings. This preemption is absolute and as Justice Thomas’ concurrence clarifies, there is no need to discuss the intent or purpose of federal statutes providing veterans benefits, because the authority to do so springs from the plain language of federal legislation providing veterans the exclusive right to these funds.

What must not be forgotten is despite the unanimous opinion and unequivocal admonishment to all those state courts that have, without authority, divested veterans of these benefits, the state of the law prior to this decision (since at least 1989) left thousands of veterans without the federal benefits to which they have been entitled. This has resulted in the unjust and, in many cases, irreversible consequence of leaving veterans who are physically and psychologically unable to continue working and living a normal life with little or no funds.

More later on this incredible and resounding victory for our armed forces personnel.

About cjtucker06

Owner of law firm since July 2014; Handles all types of appellate matters and assists other lawyers with complex litigation and insurance coverage issues; Admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the State Bar of Michigan; Expertise in prosecuting and defending appeals with several significant successes in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals; Author of briefs amicus curiae in the Michigan Supreme Court for the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel and the Insurance Institute of Michigan; Represents Insurance Companies, Major International Business, Governmental Entities, Law Enforcement Officers and County Sheriffs. Board of Directors, Michigan Defense Trial Counsel Amicus Committee Co-Chair, Michigan Defense Trial Counsel Military - Retired Major in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps of the United States Army, Brigade Judge Advocate and Staff JAG officer for the Maneuver Training Center, Camp Grayling, Michigan; Recipient of the Army's Meritorious Service Medal (the highest medal of honor available to Soldiers serving in non-combat roles); 2012 Graduate of the Judge Advocate Officer Advanced Course, at The Judge Advocate Legal Center and School, Charlottesville, Virginia. United States Navy Reserves, Combat Warfare Qualification, January 1989 to July 2003 Former law clerk to Justice Stephen J. Markman, Michigan Supreme Court, Research Attorney, Michigan Court of Appeals. Insurance Coverage Associate Plunkett Cooney; Environmental Law Attorney at Squire Sanders, now Squire Patton Boggs; Master's Degree in Environmental Law; Environmental Law Scholar, ALI/ABA Washington, D.C., Juris Doctorate, Vermont Law School, Environmental Editor, Vermont Law Review; Treasurer and Finalist, Moot Court Advisory Board.
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